How a vegan ends up with leather in her portfolio

February 7, 2020 By Ron Lieber

Investing well is hard enough, and introducing your personal values into the mix only compounds the confusion.

What matters most? How can I have the biggest impact? And am I a traitor to myself if I own stocks in companies I would otherwise shun?

Consider just one issue that inspires deep feelings: Animal welfare. It is one of the newest niches that socially responsible investment companies seek to serve, and it offers a useful template for the kinds of questions that all of us need to ask if we want to craft a portfolio that points the same way as our moral compass.

There are two noteworthy examples of how one can attempt this.

First, the US Vegan Climate ETF. It is an index of sorts, with 268 American stocks, and it begins with subtraction: removing companies, and even whole industries, that it considers animal unfriendly. Pharmaceuticals? Poof, because of all the animal testing. Companies that extract and refine fossil fuels are gone, too. After all, animals are outdoors more than we tend to be, so climate change threatens many of them even more than us.

The Karner Blue Animal Impact Fund, named for the endangered butterfly, takes a different approach. It is an actively managed mutual fund, with less than half the number of stocks as Vegan ETF, including companies not based in the United States.

Another big difference: It employs so-called positive screening, picking best-of-breed companies in as many industries as it can stomach.

“We are not animal avoidant,” said Vicki L. Benjamin, president of Karner Blue Capital. “We are animal engagement.”

This gets tricky rather quickly, and it may mean something like the following when it comes to the raising of meat, according to Benjamin, who is not a vegan but tends to stray from a plant-based diet mostly in the...

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